By Mary Reitano
New Year’s resolutions for change are an American tradition. The new year, symbolizing fresh beginnings, is a good time to “reset.” Common resolutions relate to health—weight loss, increased exercise, or smoking cessation. However, have you ever started with good intentions, but lost motivation to keep your resolutions? If so, perhaps it would help to take new look at motivation and change.
Change is a Process
Change does not happen suddenly, but in stages, according to researchers Prochasko and DiClemente. Perhaps you are thinking about change, but have not yet taken action. Congratulations! You are already at Stage 2, called contemplation. Or maybe you started on a fitness plan, but fell back into your old habits. You will be encouraged to know relapse is not failure, but a normal part of change, overcome by analyzing the triggers that activated old habits and then reinforcing new coping behaviors. Other stages of change include preparation, action; and maintenance. 1
Motivation from Within
Motivational Interviewing was developed by Miller and Rollnick to help those struggling with substance abuse, but it is highly effective in changing other habits. This refreshing approach includes determining your reasons for change, and reinforcing those intrinsic motivations. Change is hard, but possible by accessing your own deeply-held values. “Motivation for change occurs when people perceive a discrepancy between where they are and where they want to be.” 2
Cost versus Benefit
Another theory of change is “Cost versus Benefit.” Many people will not change unless the costs of current behaviors exceed the expected benefits of new behaviors. For instance, the effort to learn new recipes, restrict intake, and give up unhealthy foods may not outweigh the perceived benefits of weight loss (less criticism, better-fitting clothes, increased energy or compliments.)
New Vision of Yourself
A different self-perception is a key to successful change. Seeing your self as a non-smoker, thinner person, or physically-fit person may be a new idea. “Each person’s “belief that change is possible is an important motivator to succeeding in making a change….” 2 Many people have “negative self-talk” due to their self-perception (like calling themselves unmotivated). This can create a negative assumption that you are flawed at your core, also called “shame.” Shaming self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and inhibits change. You may be “guilty” of over-eating or smoking. But, these are habits you can change–behaviors do not have to become your identity. A more constructive belief is that you can significantly self-determine who you are by exercising your free will and the “executive function” area of your brain. This is why being around positive people is helpful. Some friends, family members and professionals can see and draw out the best in you. And, that is why support groups, counselors or coaches can empower you in making significant change.
For additional information, please see the resources listed below:
2,3 Motivational Enhancement Therapy manual. http://motivationalinterview.net/clinical/principles.html
Pro-Change Behavior Systems,, Inc. http://www.prochange.com/transtheoretical-model-of-behavior-change
Mary Reitano is a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate with four years of experience, focusing on positive psychology and a holistic approach that addresses emotional, relational, mental, physical and spiritual health.